Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Anthony Bourdain's Hungry Ghosts

Written by: Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose, Alberto Ponticelli, Vanesa Del Rey, Leonardo Manco, Mateus Santolouco, Sebastian Cabrol, Paul Pope, Irene Koh, & Francesco Francavilla

First line: Ah, here you are, poor lost soul.

Why you should read this book: Fans of spooky manga and pre-code horror comics rejoice—here is a sumptuous anthology of creepy collected tales (using a frame with a frame device, even) loosely organized around food and eating, and honoring its multi-cultural source material along with the best conventions of the genres that inspired it. In addition to the eight comics presented here, you get five original recipes from the famous chef (food inspired by the tales) as well as an appendix of monsters. And if all of this is not terrifying enough for you, this project is apparently one of the last things Bourdain completed before he took his own life, so, you know, really quintessential horror genre stuff going on right here.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Monsters. Sex. Violence. These words do not fill your soul with thrill and anticipation.

Swing It, Sunny

Written by: Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

First line: She's just a regular girl in a regular world!

Why you should read this book: I guess I'm reading them out of order but from a stylistic perspective this spectacular book, told in a series of vignettes that come together to present a complete picture, is even better than the previous volume I reviewed. Despite living in a loving family, there is a conspicuous absence in Sunny's life: her big brother has been shipped off to boarding school for bad grades and bad behavior and who knows what else, and even when he's with the family, something is still missing. Sunny lives her life, develops new friends and new interests, and manages to find a way to reach out to her distant, angry brother so he can see some hope for the future.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want any rainbows or rays of sunshine in your life.

Bad Gateway

Written by: Simon Hanselman

First line: This place seems cheap and is OK.

Why you should read this book: It will break your heart, in a good way. It's about a drug-addicted, welfare-cheating witch named Megg; her drug addicted, trust-fund hippie boyfriend cat named Mogg; and the assorted other creatures who flit in and out of their drug haze. Megg's life is bleak, and she is determined to hang on to the bleakness, seeming to put as much effort into staying in a bad place as it would take to get her to a better place, but the volume ends with her going back home to see her mother and, presumably, examine the path that brought her to this bleak place.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Sex, drugs, violence, often all at the same time.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume Three: Century

Written by: Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill

First line: Fraters and Sorors...beloved Frater and Sorors...we are gathered in the profess-house.

Why you should read this book: A magician who definitely isn't Aleister Crowley has a very drawn out plot to create a moon child and usher in the end of the world, something like that, and Mina, Alan, and Lando have to stop this, probably. It will take them an entire century to get to the bottom of things but they all have immortal youth and their opponent can acquire new bodies whenever he feels like it. There's a rock star who definitely isn't Mick Jagger and a guy who travels through time but not space and gives almost perfectly useless advice, and there's sex and drugs and nudity and all kinds of weirdness and of course, since it's Moore, ten million references that will make you feel smart if you get them and confused if you don't.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Still trying to track down a copy of the Black Dossier. Plus this book is kind of a literary mess, padded stylistically but without a lot of story.


Written by: Alex Gino

First line: George pulled a silver house key out of the smallest pocket of a large red backpack.

Why you should read this book: I adored this gentle, quiet story about a little trans girl who wants nothing more than to play Charlotte in her school's performance of Charlotte's Web but isn't quite ready to explain her motivations to the world. George is well aware of her own gender, but no one else knows her secret, which basically involves looking wistfully at teen magazines and pretending the girls in the photographs are her real friends. When she works up the courage to share her true identity with her best friend, an entire new world of possibility opens up and she begins to navigate the world according to an entirely new set of rules.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a hateful, gender-essentialist bigot.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Written by: Jen Wang

First line: Christine, your collar was undone the whole time.

Why you should read this book: Christine wants to be a good daughter/member of the Asian American community, so she dutifully practices the violin, attends Chinese school once a week, and does her best to live up to her parents' expectations, but a big part of her admires Moon, who is Asian American as well, but in a different way: Buddhist, vegetarian, wearing nail polish, dancing to pop music, and sometimes punching people who frankly deserve it. At first Moon scares Christine, but she soon finds a new kind of freedom in their friendship, even if Moon still does and says things that she can't quite condone or comprehend. Maybe Moon is too cool for Christine, or maybe something else could steal her away, or maybe Christine's own insecurity can destroy this friendship without any outside help.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You do everything your parents expect of you and you like it that way.

Why you shouldn't read this book:

Grandmother Fish: A Child's First Book of Evolution

Written by: Jonathan Tweet and Karen Lewish

First line: This is our Grandmother Fish. She lived a long long, long, long, long time ago.

Why you should read this book: A joyful and accessible explanation of evolution directed to the youngest readers, this book begins with a fish (not because life begin with a fish, but because children can comprehend the concept of "fish" better than they can "single celled organisms"), points out her evolutionary advantages (she can wiggle, swim fast, and chomp things), and then discusses some of the evolutionary branches that descended from this proto fish. The book goes on to draw a line from fish to reptiles, reptiles to mammals, mammals to apes, and apes to humans, using the type of poetic repetition and variations that draws children into stories. The supplementary material includes a partial family tree of all life on earth, and many notes for adult humans seeking to further illuminate these concepts for young humans. All around a wonderful reference for little kids just beginning to explore their world, science, and what it means to be alive.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You know who you are and you can get the hell off my book blog. We believe in science around here.

Hello, My Name Is Octicorn

Written by: Kevin Diller and Justin Love

First line: Hi, everyone, I'm Octi.

Why you should read this book: For everyone who is sui generis but also just like everyone else (or for people who don't know how to handle people like that) a story about a unique being, the product of a loving relationship between an octopus and a unicorn. Octi explains how he is different from unicorns and octopodes, but also how is the same, and why he is, as he is, a great friend. He just wants love and the simple pleasures of life, like cupcakes and a jet ski.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You conform and so does everyone you know.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Shirley Jackson's The Lottery: The Authorized Graphic Adaptation

Written by: Miles Hyman

First line: Evenin' Joe.

Why you should read this book: If you thought Shirley Jackson's short story about the banality of evil was brutal in text form, just wait until you see it in full color illustration, lovingly transformed into a visual work by the author's grandson. In a small, simple town, people gather for a ritual, one so old that they have more or less lost sight of why they even perform it, although most of the old timers are certain that not repeating the horrific actions in just the way their ancestors performed them will lead to certain ruin. This graphic adaptation drives home the author's ideas about community, individualism, and the tyranny of the group.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You always go with the flow.


Written by: L. Nichols

First line: Here is the church and here is the steeple.

Why you should read this book: Although the narrator regularly prays to be "normal" and doubles down on every church-approved activity available including volunteering, Bible study, and choir, even as a little girl she knows that she is different from other people. The interior disconnect is represented here by depicting the main character as a soft, floppy rag doll with visible seams while all the other characters are drawn as more or less realistic humans. Academically talented but feeling at one with the universe only when alone in nature, she works hard for success in school and finally heads off to college, where she can openly explore the questions of gender and sexuality that have followed her since page one.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never been disappointed when you looked in the mirror.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Sunny Rolls the Dice

Written by: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

First line: Are you a groovy teen?

Why you should read this book: It's the 1970s and young adolescent Sunny is constantly preoccupied with the question of how groovy she, her clothes, her hair, and her life choices might be. While she wants to look good and have the right clothes, she finds that what she's enjoying most are the weekly sessions of this weird new game called Dungeons and Dragons, where she can pretend to be a powerful fighter. But when she realizes that playing RPGs with boys isn't considered as groovy as expensive designer jeans, she has to decide what her own priorities are, and whether it's OK for her to make choices that don't align with her friends'.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think D&D is a directly transit to hell, or that girls and boys shouldn't be allowed to play together, or that your value as a friend and a human is somehow connected to how much your pants cost.

Anne of Green Gables

Written by: LM Montgomery

First line: Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde's Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard to decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.

Why you should read this book: More than a hundred years after its original publication, this classic work about a precocious, imaginative, spirited orphan girl who comes to live on a farm where she is not originally wanted continues to hold great meaning for readers of all ages (a 3-season re-imagining of this novel can be viewed on Netflix under the title Anne with an E, and it surely does provide an excellent scaffolding for more modern ideas about childhood despite remaining set in the very early 1900s). Anne Shirley, an unwanted red haired child, whose head is full of books and poetry and romance, seems an unlikely addition to the Cuthbert family, which has, for decades, consisted only of laconic, tongue-tied farmer Matthew and his sharp, cold housekeeping sister, Marilla, but as it turns out, Anne's mischief is exactly what these siblings need in their old age. Whether she's unintentionally getting her best friend drunk, accidentally substituting liniment for vanilla in a cake for the minister's wife, or deliberately appearing in church wearing a heathenish quantity of wildflowers on her hat, Anne's antics continue to delight and draw in her new family and her many generations of dedicated readers. 

Why you should not read this book: You don't believe in the magic of childhood.

Parable of the Talents

Written by: Octavia E. Butler

First line: Here we are—/Energy,/Mass,/Life,/Shaping life,/Mind,/Shaping Mind,/God,/Shaping God.

Why you should read this book: Powerful, brutal, and more terrifyingly true to life than any near-future science fiction novel has any right to be, this sequel to the Parable of the Sower includes more excerpts from Olamina's Earthseed: The Books of the Living, recollections from Olamina's daughter, the writings of Olamina's husband, Bankole, and brother, Marcus, along with vast chunks from Olamina's own diaries. While prepared, always, for change, Olamina's Earthseed community cannot stand the rising tide of religious fascism sweeping the country under the rule of a radical conservative president who (frighteningly, presciently) gets elected with the campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again." Unsurprisingly, for Olamina and most of her loved ones America becomes much, much worse, but with Earthseed as a blueprint for the survival and evolution of the human race, she is able to survive the horror of "Christian America" and help humanity fulfill what she believes to be its true Destiny.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You seriously believe our actual president is actually making America "great again," but if you believe that you probably don't read much of note anyway, at least not provocative, award winning speculative fiction by African-American women.